The Credibility Crisis of America’s Institutions
And there’s only way one out.
The nation’s credibility crisis didn’t arrive overnight. It’s been coming down since the sixties. That was a time when 4 out of 5 Americans believed that they could trust the federal government.
These days it’s more like 1 out of 5.
Congress enjoys the trust of 1 in 10 Americans. The presidency, 4 in 10. (That’s up from 1 in 3 under Obama.) Around the same number trust the Supreme Court.
It’s not just political institutions.
Trust in the media is understandably low with only 1 in 4 trusting newspapers, and less than 1 in 5 trusting television news. Only 1 in 3 trust organized religion and the medical system, even fewer trust public schools, labor unions, banks, the criminal justice system, and big business.
America’s political crisis is really a collapse of trust in institutions. And that’s one thing that Republicans and Democrats agree on. The Republican solution is to restore confidence by decentralizing institutions while the Democrat solution is to restore confidence by expanding government.
When President Trump ran a successful presidential campaign based on a lack of confidence in government, the crisis that most elites and experts had avoided discussing, went national.
The Democrats, who had become the more institutional party, blamed the credibility crisis on FOX News, on fake news on Facebook, and on the Russians. Their proposals for protecting “democracy” from fake news by censoring social media were typical of totalitarian regimes trying to maintain control.
But FOX News was created in 1996. Facebook in 2004. While the latter date roughly coincides with the fall of trust in newspapers and television news from 1 in 3 to 1 in 4, most people didn’t trust the media even before the advent of FOX News or Facebook. Social media and conservative alternatives didn’t kill trust in media. They just piled more dirt on the coffin. There is no turning back the clock to Cronkite.
And there is no clearer way of validating conspiracy theories than by conspiring to suppress them.